A French hurdler claimed a sensational national title despite the use of just one eye after he was violently attacked 20 minutes before the race and forced to compete wearing bandages across his face.
Wilfried Happio was preparing for the 400 metres hurdles final at the French Championships in Caen on Saturday night when he was assaulted on the warm-up track.
Happio received several punches to the face before his coach Olivier Vallaeys was able to haul the attacker away.
The reasons for the attack, and the identity of the attacker, are unknown, but the person was arrested by police and the French Athletics Federation later filed an official complaint.
Despite reportedly still coughing up blood moments before the race, Happio, who was wearing a patch over his injured eye, prevailed in a personal best 48.57 seconds.
🔥 Minima pour les Mondiaux de Eugene !
🥇 Wilfried Happio (Lille Métropole Athlé) champion de France Elite du 400 m haies en 48''57 !
💪 Cinquième meilleur performeur 🇫🇷 de l'histoire !
💻 Suivez les #CFAthlé en DIRECT sur https://t.co/63xdTVtG50 et @lachainelequipe. pic.twitter.com/s4QTyk50iT
— FFAthlétisme (@FFAthletisme) June 25, 2022
“I don’t want to dwell on it,” said Happio after the race. “We’ll leave that to the competent people. To talk about the race, we worked a lot, we redid the music and that’s it. The feelings were good. I’m glad I did this time. Physically I’m fine.”
Vallaeys added: “There was a big incident during the warm-up. Someone jumped on him and hit him.
“A guy who came from nowhere asked him if it was really him, Wilfried Happio, and threw himself on him. I belted it. It was 20 minutes before the race, we were ready to go to the call room. We’re in shock.
“The guy was arrested. Wilfried is fine. But I’m speechless, it’s a mess. Sheer aggression. It’s outrageous. These are savage methods.”
Happio’s victory ensured qualification for next month’s World Championships. He reached the Olympic semi-finals last year, having exited in the heats at the 2019 World Championships.